Patch.com La Jolla
A La Jolla playwright’s drama about the Holocaust diarist gets a local premiere at the JCC
By Pat Launer
She may be a legend, but she wasn’t an angel. Anne Frank, who wrote her timeless diary when she was in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, was really a typical teenager.
That’s the premise of “Goodbye Memories,” the first play written by La Jolla playwright Anita Simons, premiering locally courtesy of the J*Company youth theater.
“Since I first read Anne Frank’s diary when I was a teenager,” says Simons, who’s the front office administrator at the La Jolla Playhouse, “I always had this feeling that she was not a saint. I started to do research on her, and I found that I was right.”
Simons read every version of “The Diary of a Young Girl,” both abridged and unabridged, and various translations. The Anne Frank Foundation wouldn’t let her use any direct quotes, but she “befriended everyone who knew and wrote about Anne Frank, and got permission to use excerpts from their work.”
One of the people Simons met was Hannah Goslar, Anne’s childhood friend (the girls re-connected in 1945, at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, shortly before Anne died at age 15).
“Hannah came to San Diego in 2000, from her home in Israel,” Simons reports. “I’d already written the play, and I got her a copy. She had no concerns about the content, even though I made up some stuff, like Anne smoking cigarettes. No concerns from Laureen Nussbaum, either, an Anne Frank expert who was at the Frank house often in her youth. She told me Anne was a brat. She thought I was right on about my concept.”
“Goodbye Memories” begins on Anne’s 13th birthday, when her father gives her an autograph book, and she decides to use it as a diary. The play ends 2½ weeks later, when the Frank family goes into hiding.
“I wanted to explore what Anne Frank was like before she went into hiding, to show that she was just like any other teenager. She talks back to her mother, she’s not so crazy about her older sister, she gets in trouble at school (for talking), she’s interested in sex. Ninety percent of what’s in the play is factual.
“We shouldn’t put her on a pedestal. If you deify her, then you don’t get to know the real person. I want to show Anne Frank as no different from other young people. The play is a 2½ week slice of life, at a turning point in her life.”
Simons’ play has had readings in New York, Hollywood and San Diego and has won several awards. Now, she’s is hoping that Eric Bishop, faculty director at Mira Costa College, will mount a full production, making gold as he did in 2008 with Simons’ “Heartland” (co-written with Lauren Simon), which was selected for the American College Theatre Festival and took second place in the National Playwriting Awards at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
“Anne was a great writer,” Simons asserts, “but the question is, If she had lived, would we be talking about her today? I don’t know.”
The J*Company production of “Goodbye Memories,” directed by Emily Calabrese and featuring students from the San Diego Jewish Academy, will be performed at the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla, January 21-23.
Tickets ($16) are available at http://tickets.lfjcc.org.